The competition this season in Trinity League girls water polo action can best be summed up with the same word used to describe one end of most backyard pools:
In his 10 years as head coach at Mater Dei, says Chris Segesman, this is one of the most competitive seasons yet.
Orange Lutheran, which has five players who have been playing together since they were freshmen and now are juniors, still is considered the team to beat, but the four other teams — Mater Dei, Santa Margarita, JSerra and Rosary — all are strong and can emerge the victor in any matchup, coaches say.
“From top to bottom, it’s a very competitive league,” Segesman says. “It’s great for the sport and for the Trinity League.”
Segesman’s Monarchs were league champions four years in a row through 2012, but for the last two years that honor has gone to Santa Margarita Catholic High School’s Eagles.
“Our season will be predicated on how we do against Orange Lutheran, Santa Margarita and Rosary,” Segesman says. “We’ve been playing really hard [early in the season] and the girls all know their roles and are doing a good job.”
The Mater Dei girls water polo team is anchored by offensive force Grace Thawley (“She’s our quarterback,” Segesman says) and Kayla Constandse on defense.
Julie Ertel, head coach of the JSerra Lions, said the strength of her team is defense.
“They are terrific at helping and communicating in the water,” Ertel says. “Another strength is having a deeper bench than in years past.
“Our greatest weakness is in our numbers. We have just 19 on our team, which means that everyone gets plenty of playing time, but if a few athletes are sick, we run out of subs quickly.”
Ertel says sophomore Krista Krantz has “really developed into a strong all-around player” and that Mariah Meyer, who focused on offense last year, has of late become a strong defensive player.
She adds that freshman Ashley Kempf is showing great potential.
“It’s a pleasure coaching the JSerra girls,” Ertel says. “They are academically very strong and it’s exciting to help them pursue their college plans. Because we are a small team, they are very close friends and enjoy time out of the water as much as time playing polo.”
Rory Bevins, head coach of water polo and swimming at Rosary High School, says Orange Lutheran seems primed to have a breakout year.
“They have had some good transfers come in and are looking very tough,” Bevins says.
He is quick to note, however, the close competition throughout the league.
“There are four very good teams,” Bevins says. “Santa Margarita is fast and plays very smart defense. Mater Dei is big, strong and physical and can control a game. Rosary has a mix of both, and we pride ourselves on playing very strong team water polo.”
Adds Bevins: “We play hard-nosed team defense and have some very talented shooters as well. As far as up-and-coming players, Santa Margarita has a few freshman who are good.
“Here at Rosary, we have a freshman in Bayley Weber who is going to be an absolute stud in the next few years. She is our leading scorer now and is getting better every day.
“This should be an exciting season for the Trinity League, and I think it will come down to teams playing well at their home pools. That being said, I would not be surprised to see some sort of tie for league champions or for the top three spots that go to CIF.”
Kevin Ricks, director of Water Polo Operations at Santa Margarita Catholic High School and head coach of girls water polo in 2013, notes that the Trinity League has made the move to Division I this season and is now competing with legendary programs such as Laguna Beach, Newport Harbor, Foothill and Corona del Mar.
Standout players at SMCHS, Ricks says, include senior goalkeeper Nikki Doumas, who has verbally committed to UC San Diego to play water polo next season, and junior Sophia Baia, whom Ricks called a “rising talent” in the program.
He says the Eagles also have two talented freshmen starters and another two coming off the bench who are playing critical roles.
Both SMCHS and Mater Dei both are fielding young teams that start multiple freshmen on each side, Ricks notes.
“Tough to say,” he says, “but the Trinity League is probably the most evenly matched league in the county right now.”